Full marks to Los Angeles, full marks to its fans, and full marks to the NHL.
We've only seen two Stadium Series games so far, and they're easily my favourite. Sure, I get a kick out of the Winter Classic and I'll enjoy the Heritage game when it comes to Vancouver. But how nice was it to watch an outdoor game in Los Angeles, to not have to care about all those recycled, overdone storylines about "pond hockey" and "childhood memories"? It was a relief, frankly, to take in a game with roller hockey rinks and beach volleyball courts, to see a relatively new market just enjoy the game for what it means to them.
Like anyone, I was pretty pumped when the NHL decided to put this year's Winter Classic in Michigan's Big House. I'm a Wolverines fan, and that stadium is a landmark in America's sports history. As a Steelers fan, I got up for the 2011 game at Heinz Field, too. Wrigley was neat. Ralph Wilson? Yeah, why not.
And so I don't intend to dump on anyone's parade, but the league's slate of authentic, Tim Hortons cup-inspired showdowns are just that - parades. It's all a circus. A brilliant marketing ploy. The HBO series is more enjoyable than the game itself, because the game is normally slowed down by crappy ice, blizzard-y weather, and clumps of snow that build up and snuff out numerous chances. The only reason anyone scores is because the goalies are as cold -- or colder -- than the players.
It's fun and all, but it's not good hockey. It's a fantasy team killer. And besides, how many of us actually grew up like some Pioneer child on Canada's frozen frontier? How many of us didn't have an indoor rink in our city, town, or hamlet? We've all played outdoor hockey and we all love it, but let's not act like us Canadians aren't perennial chart-toppers on The Economist's annual list of the world's most livable cities.
It's a neat narrative to play up, but it's not real.
L.A.'s game, however, was.
It was real because it was indulgent. It was a guilty pleasure in all the things we think make L.A. an embarrassing quasi-hockey town. KISS sang the starters in. The Ducks wore full orange body suits. The Kings had that southern California chrome look that made you think of one of those mid-'90s Gold's Gym ads, and everything else was ripped right out '80s neon and those cheesy inline skating instructional videos starring Wayne Gretzky. (Even Brett Hull's brother got in on that action... "If you wanna be a top-notch roller hockey player, you have to be a great skater.") Watching that Stadium Series soar was like watching the Clippers beat the Lakers. Suddenly, the world was upside down... and we loved it.
The Dodger Stadium deal wasn't Canadian and you didn't need a parka. It was more of a Canadian vacation, but so are teams like the Coyotes, the Ducks, the Kings, and the Panthers. They're supported by snowbirds and they're a supporting actor.
Those teams and their markets may not be perfect and they may not live up to the pretentious ideal us frigid northerners try to hold ourselves to, but they're a part of our game.
And they're doing it better than us.
(If you still feel like stroking that nostalgia, check out this rescue clip from Wayne Gretzky's All-Star Hockey Tips, 1995. Check out when Paul Romaniuk shows off Gretzky's first pair of skates. Did a blacksmith make those? Forget Wayne's points. I think he's the greatest of all time simply because he had to learn how to play hockey on those crusty old things, which were basically just shoes with knives on the bottom.)
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 06: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 6, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Penguins 5-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 03: Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks shoots the puck against the Edmonton Oilers at Honda Center on January 3, 2014 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (1) makes a stop on a shot by Los Angeles Kings the during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: Rick Nash #61 of the New York Rangers skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on December 12, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 21: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Buffalo Sabres during the game at TD Garden on December 21, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, right, makes a save against Ottawa Senators' Bobby Ryan during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes)
Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban celebrates a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Sharon Ellman)
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 27: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks in action during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on December 27, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Sharks defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in an overtime shoot out. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Nashville Predators' Shea Weber, right, celebrates with goaltender Carter Hutton after the predators defeated the New York Rangers, 4-1, in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Predators defeated the Rangers 4-1. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 28: Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the Phoenix Coyotes at Honda Center on December 28, 2013 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
San Jose Sharks' Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) is chased by Dallas Stars' Vernon Fiddler (38) during the second period of an NHL hockey game on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp celebrates his hat trick during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, in Newark, N.J. The Blackhawks won 5-3. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
UNIONDALE, NY - JANUARY 02: Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on January 2, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NY - JANUARY 02: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on January 2, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Chris Kunitz celebrates his goal in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers in Pittsburgh, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02: Jay Bouwmeester #19 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on December 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
New York Islanders' John Tavares (91) drives the puck around the net followed by Pittsburgh Penguins' Brooks Orpik (44) as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) defends from behind in the second period of an NHL hockey game on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Uniondale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 17: Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings makes a long pass during the game against the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center on December 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Colorado Avalanche's Matt Duchene (9) is congratulated by the bench following his goal against the Dallas Stars in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Vancouver Canucks' Dan Hamhuis, left, and Columbus Blue Jackets' Michael Chaput collide during second period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, British Columbia, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter (77) keeps the puck from Calgary Flames left wing Lance Bouma, back left, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
OTTAWA, ON - DECEMBER 16: Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre on December 16, 2013 in Ottawa, Canada. The Senators defeated the Blues 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 02: Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars celebrates his goal against the Montreal Canadiens in the first period at American Airlines Center on January 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) has his shot blocked by Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Smith (41) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Martin St. Louis #26 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates a goal against the San Jose Sharks at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on January 18, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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